Holy Nano-Tech, Batman, BZRK Is Awesome!

A Review of BZRK by Michael Grant

Egmont USA, 2012

BZRK by Michael Grant BZRK by Michael Grant

by REBECCA, July 21, 2013

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On one side of this near-future war, the Armstrong brothers seek mindless utopia; on the other, a guerrilla group (code name BZRK) fights to keep our messed up humanity. The technology is nano; the battleground is the human brain. Can the hackers of BZRK intervene, and save humanity from itself?

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nanoscale

a nanometer is one billionth of a meter

In the near future, humans have developed the ability to manipulate nanotechnology so deftly that certain highly-skilled operators can simultaneously see from the perspectives of two tiny biots as well as their own. They can direct these nanobots with their brains because they are, strictly speaking, part of them. They can tell these biots to climb in through your eye socket and make their way to your brain. And then they can control you. Note: in case it’s not clear, THIS SHIT IS TERRIFYING! The Armstrong brothers are conjoined twins who have built an empire and are now leveraging their wealth and power in attempting to turn the world into a utopia where there will be no more war and we’ll all get along. (I think we all know how that one’s going to turn out, guys.)

Opposed to the Armstrongs is BZRK, a ragtag group of hackers who are fighting against this takeover, and are willing to do whatever it takes to stop the Armstrongs. This is no Hackers; this is high-level international politicking. And it’s all done with something so small it’s invisible.

BZRK is told from the perspectives of both BZRK and the Armtsrongs’ team of hackers, and it is a thrill ride, y’all. Michael Grant does an amazing job of making nanotechnology come alive. The explanations are rigorous enough that I was completely convinced that this will all come to pass soon, and I have actually not been this horrified while reading a novel in a while. Manipulating biots is sort of like a combination of playing a video game, commanding soldiers, and being in a virtual reality simulation. Sometimes while running for your life in the real world. The hackers call having your biots on or in someone’s body as “being in the meat” and the descriptions of the landscapes of the human body are thrilling. It sounds a bit like this ride at Universal Studios, Body Wars, where you’re a blood cell or something and you move through the body! My mom got totally sick on it, but I thought it was awesome.

I was lately bemoaning my own lackluster science experience in middle and high school and saying to a friend that if I had learned about science from doing research into elements of my favorite science fiction books I would have been totally captivated. BZRK is one of those books that I immediately recommended to everyone science-y that I know (which is, like, two people, so spread the word).

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

BZRK Reloaded by Michael GrantGrant’s goal seemed to be to terrify the ever-loving bejeezus out of me, and he succeeded unequivocally. Reading about fighting a battle where the landscapes are the surface of someone’s optic nerve, or the folds of their brain? Truly awesome. And that’s where the real innovation of this novel was—the ideas. I was sold on them 100% and I can’t wait to read the sequel. But the ideas aren’t instead of a plot or good characters. The dialogue in BZRK is great, and the characters well delineated. There is definite room for development in the sequel, BZRK Reloaded, out October 8th.

Bonus: I have never met a ragtag group of hackers that I didn’t like! I also really love that we’re at the point now where a book can just go ahead and assert that the side that is trying for utopia is clearly the villains and not need to explain why because we all totally get it. Refreshingly, BZRK does some things that make them just as villainous as the hackers for the other side, so this isn’t a sunshine and rainbows high school computer club that makes us all warm and fuzzy.

BZRK is violent, harsh, and intense, and I loved every minute of it. Read this immediately if you like sci-fi, tech, strategy, hacking, and good, old-fashioned awesomeness.

procured from: the library

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I’ll Show You My Compulsions If You Show Me Yours: OCD Love Story

A Review of OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu

OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Hayduby REBECCA, July 29, 2013

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Bea knows she’s a bit messed up—ever since “the incident” last year, she’s been seeing a therapist—but she thinks she’s got things pretty much under control. Heck, she even met a boy at a school dance recently! But now Dr. Pat wants her to join a therapy group for teens with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. As Bea starts a relationship with Beck her own OCD begins to spiral out of control.

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OCD Love Story is contemporary realism, but because we see the world through Bea’s eyes, we see it through the lens of her obsessions and compulsions. Bea has never thought of her behaviors in terms of OCD. Sure, she gets really fixated on things sometimes—her ex-boyfriend, a story about a teen’s death, sharp things—but she thinks of it as one of her many quirks, like the scrapbooks where she collects news reports of murders, or the detailed notes she takes about people. And, ok, maybe it is a lot harder to drive lately, since she can’t go faster than 30 miles an hour and has to circle back multiple times to make absolutely sure she hasn’t hit anyone, but she’s just being careful, right? Responsible.

This is Bea’s daily life, but when Dr. Pat gives her a pamphlet—and, thus, a diagnosis—of OCD, Bea suddenly has a whole new vocabulary to describe her behaviors. And she doesn’t like it one bit. Because now she’s exactly what she’s never wanted to be: crazy. Too crazy to be loved, perhaps, and definitely too crazy for her best friend, Lisha, who’s been her rock forever.

When she joins therapy group, she thinks she doesn’t belong. Come on: these people pull their hair out and pick at their faces and tap and wash their hands; her obsessions are just intense and her compulsions charming. Right? But, little by little, Bea’s obsession with two of Dr. Pat’s other patients (Austin and Sylvia, whose lives seem glamorous and perfect) amplifies and she finds her thoughts and behaviors spiraling dangerously out of her control. It’s like being in group with these people is making her crazier!

what were this book’s intentions? does it live up to them?

Maybe it was the color palette of the cover, or maybe the phrase “love story” in the title, but I started OCD Love Story expecting a sweet romance (and, thus, wasn’t particularly excited about it). To my delight, this is not the case. First-time novelist Corey Ann Haydu delivers a harrowing portrait of the effects of OCD on Bea’s life.

I loathe with a passion the kind of books and movies where the entire drama derives from the protagonist making a torturous series of mistakes and obviously terrible choices (Meet the Parents! et al). OCD Love Story might seem, at first, to follow a similar pattern: a girl acts in ways that the reader can tell are terrible and it torments us. To the contrary, Haydu crafts a story where I both felt subject to the whims of Bea’s compulsions but was also able to experience the micro-drama of her attempts to resist them and her frustration when she’s unable to do so. As a result, I felt exhausted right along with Bea when she’s in the grip of a compulsion, but was so intrigued by their content that I felt compelled too!

Bea’s relationship with Beck was particularly interesting to me—and a smart conceit on Haydu’s part. Beck’s obsessions—with the number eight—and compulsions—working out, hand-washing—are, on the surface, the opposite of Bea, who is a bit sloppy and frazzled. But both of them are, at root, concerned about safety. Bea is convinced that she is dangerous and will hurt someone; Beck is convinced that if he can get strong enough perhaps he can retroactively save someone he’s lost. The result of his compulsions is that Beck has a really hulked-out upper body that seems at odds with his sad eyes and sweet, tentative personality. But for Bea, his physical strength makes him appealing precisely because he seems like someone she won’t be able to harm as easily. Of course, the story gives the lie to this correlation between physical and emotional invulnerability, and learning this is part of Bea’s journey.

Their relationship raises really interesting questions about ideas of masculinity and femininity that are at the center of OCD Love Story and were, I thought, the most accomplished (although subtle) element of the novel. Most novels about love and relationships explore the ways that we negotiate among our solitary selves and who we become in relationships. OCD Love Story portrays people who sometimes have very little choice but to show things about themselves that other characters might keep hidden. Bea, for one, has a compulsion to tell the truth, which isn’t terribly conducive to a smooth first date; things like telling Beck that his shirt is too tight and confessing that her meds give her wicked night sweats. How Bea navigates the shark-infested waters of the truth—does she stand by it, apologize for it, act like it’s normal, etc.?—is another particularly interesting element of OCD Love Story. The psychology behind Bea and Beck’s obsessions and compulsions is deftly handled and, while the ending is bit abrupt, Bea’s insights at the climax ring very true.

All in all, Haydu writes a dramatic story about OCD rather than allowing the inherent drama of OCD determine the story. I was pleasantly surprised!

procured from: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Corey Ann Haydu’s OCD Love Story is available now.

Movie Review of Geography Club & Thoughts on Queer YA Film

A Discussion of Geography Club, directed by Gary Entin; written by Edmund Entin, based on the novel by Brent Hartinger

Geography Club

by REBECCA, July 24, 2013

Q Fest, Philadelphia’s annual queer film festival, has just ended, and among all the great indie films and shorts, I also got a chance to see Geography Club, based on Brent Hartinger’s YA novel of the same name, which came out a decade ago. Hartinger’s novel was one of only a few YA novels featuring queer characters at the time, and its rarity is often held in contrast to the decade-long expansion of queer YA fiction that would follow it. I remember reading Geography Club when it came out and found it a fun, charming read, if nothing particularly deep or surprising. It blended together in my mind with Alex Sanchez’ Rainbow Trilogy (2001-2005); the cover of the first in the trilogy, Rainbow Boys, I just realized, features a baby Matt Bomer:

Geography Club by Brent Hartinger Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez Order of the Poised Oak by Brent Hartinger

One thing that’s interested me in watching the increase in queer characters in YA lit has been the inevitable (and welcome) shift from every book that is about a queer teen being a coming out story to the presence of books like Alex London’s Proxy and Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens—stories that begin from the premise that there’s more to being queer than just realizing it and informing others of it. That is: a queer character no longer necessitates the structure of a problem novel, where coming out structures the main drama of the narrative. And this, I think, is a development in publishing more than writing. There have always been people writing awesome, complex queer characters; there just haven’t always been people who were willing to publish them. For a list of my favorite queer YA reads and to-reads, check out my guest posts over at Housequeer: “Queer Young Adult Fiction To Curl Up With,” and “More Queer Young Adult Fiction To Curl Up With: My To-Read Edition.”

GleeAnyway, watching Geography Club had me thinking about why, in 2013, Hartinger’s novel would be the book to get the green light. In a film festival full of (for better and for worse) searching, experimental, and unique films, Geography Club stood out as the slickest, most easily consumable, mainstream film in the bunch. In large part, the film is firmly on familiar ground for anyone who watches Glee: it’s a feel-good story of attractive, non-threatening gay and lesbian high schoolers who have straight best friends and are figuring out who they are and what role their sexual orientations play in their lives. So, it makes sense that this would be the kind of movie that a studio would want to make: in a way, it doesn’t matter that it’s queerness that is the central struggle for these characters; this struggle results in the same dramatic action as another coming of age struggle would.

I don’t say this to dismiss the film at all—to the contrary, it’s nice that we are now able to have films featuring queer characters where their queerness is pretty . . . normal. Rather, I say it to point out that YA film, in 2013, is still about a decade behind YA publishing when it comes to the kinds of stories it’s able/willing to tell. And this isn’t really surprising, considering that the sheer material requirements for a film (money, bodies, time, space) are much greater than that of a book. Still, I hope that the awesome queer YA lit that’s come out in the last five or ten years—not to mention the enthusiasm about it that readers have expressed—will inspire the YA film powers that be to take some more risks on stories that don’t all follow a coming-out narrative structure.

Geography Club is a sweet, well-made feel-good film. The acting (particularly the adorable Cameron Deane Stewart as Russell and Andrew Caldwell as his manic, girl- and junk food-obsessed bestie) is solid, and there are some really funny moments. It’s a well-paced and self-assured movie, and was exactly the kind of confection I wanted to watch on a hot summer Sunday afternoon. But, just like Hartinger’s novel, it’s not a story that will stick with me, nor is it one that shows us anything we didn’t already know. And, for me, despite being sweet and funny, that makes it a bit of a disappointment.

What do you think? What are the queer YA books you’d love to see come to the silver screen? Tell me in the comments.

Oy Vey: Heck Yes, Proxy!

A Review of Proxy (Proxy #1) by Alex London

Philomel, 2013

Proxy by Alex London

by REBECCA, July 22, 2013

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As a Patron, Knox has and does anything wants, as if there were no consequences to his actions. Because there aren’t. Well, not for him. Syd is Knox’s Proxy: any transgression of Knox’s is taken out of Syd’s hide. It’s been this way since they were boys, and Syd has learned to deal with the nerve-spasming pain of shocks, the beatings, and the manual labor. But when Knox kills a friend, Syd’s punishment may as well be a death sentence. But there are things brewing that are larger than Knox and Syd. In this future, where everything has a price, two boys will set out to see if they can take down the system.

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denver-skylineIn the world of Proxy, the city where Syd and Knox live (where Denver once was) is considered the only real seat of civilization left on the continent, and the Proxy system the only thing preserving that civilization. The barrier between wealthy Patrons in Upper City and Proxies in the trash heap of Lower City is as wide as it is literal, and Syd and Knox both know that their positions are fixed. Knox has to live up to his father’s bloated corporate legacy and Syd has to play by every rule he’s given if he hopes to live out the last two years of debt that he incurred when he was rescued as an infant—then maybe he can have a life that’s a little more of his own making.

Knox has all the latest gadgets and he and his friends spend their time hacking, drugging, teching, and partying. Syd can fix anything, and lives in a tiny room off Mr. Baram’s shop. The day Proxy opens, Knox steals a sports car and takes it for a deadly joyride, and Syd tries to concentrate at school, but gets outed by his teacher in front of the whole class, including his crush. Both boys are feeling pretty rough, and things only go downhill from there.

Proxy by Alex London and my cat

I was trying to show you how the cover is metallic, but look at my cute cat.

Proxy‘s world is vividly rendered and Alex London deftly implies volumes about its rules and textures within a few chapters. Nothing is wasted; nothing is left unexplained. There are the typical markers of class divide, from the food to the technology, but it all feels particular to this world and—Hallelujah!—it’s a world that isn’t based on a set of suicide-inspiring misogynistic stereotypes, thank you Alex London.

Indeed, gender is something that Proxy gets very refreshingly right. It’s not the point of the story, but there are characters of all types, genders, and sexual orientations here, and reading it made that place in my heart that is defensively tensed when I start every new book unclench a little.

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

After Syd finds out he’s been sentenced to pay the debt for a life taken, Syd, Knox, and a friend set out on a cross-country journey that is part rebellion, part quest, and part desperation. I’m not saying much about the plot because it’s a joy to watch unfold and I don’t want to ruin anything. Suffice it to say, it’s fast-paced without sacrificing detail, and shies away from annoyingly predictable choices even when it hits its comfortably in-genre stride. There are risks, there are stakes, and it all feels worth it.

Proxy isn’t a perfect book. It starts out alternating between Syd and Knox’s points of view, but once they meet, each chapter combines their POVs, which is confusing and, I think, a missed opportunity for learning more about their characters, which, while they definitely develop over the course of the novel, are more based in attributes than in voice. But I hope that will develop in the sequel. The writing is solidly invisible and despite the few weaknesses, Proxy soars.

Proxy by Alex London and my cute cat!

And now she is being sucked into the book. Noooooo!

In a market glutted with dystopias, Proxy is a very unique book and a really fun read, despite its grim subject matter. There are a lot of awesome details that I’ve not mentioned, like a strand of Jewish mysticism, some awesome biotech stuff, a rebel movement (always my favorite part of dystopias!), and some definitely snappy patter. My favorite detail: in this society, orphans are named after literary characters, a demonstration of how little value books have in Proxy‘s present), so there are shout-outs to famous lit all over the place—Syd’s full name is, tellingly, Sydney Carton, the Charles Darnay look-alike from A Tale of Two Cities. Delightful.

It’s also wonderful to find a gay character of color in a major YA dystopia. While we’re seeing more and more complex queer characters, race is something that YA dystopias have mostly left alone, except when it’s majorly stumbled. Alex London writes race and class into the world of Proxy and it’s much appreciated. Can’t wait for the sequel!

Not convinced? You can download the first three chapters of Proxy for free HERE.

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The Culling by Steven dos Santos

The Culling (The Torch Keeper #1) by Steven dos Santos (2013). Speaking of there being more queer characters in YA fiction, I loved The Culling, which I try hard not to call the gay Hunger Games because that makes it sound derivative, but really it’s like the gay Hunger Games in all the best ways! My full review is HERE.

Magic to the Bone (Allie Beckstrom #1) by Devon Monk Magic in the Blood (Allie Beckstrom #2) by Devon Monk Magic in the Shadows (Allie Beckstrom #3) by Devon Monk

The Allie Beckstrom Series by Devon Monk (2008-2012). The Allie Beckstrom books aren’t necessarily similar to Proxy in terms of plot or style, but Devon Monk’s urban fantasy series is based in a similar proxy system. In this world, set in an alternate Portland, every act of magic exacts a price from the user, and the wealthy (and the immoral) offload that cost onto people who have contracted to take it or have been forced to do so. The series went off the rails a bit after the first few books, but it’s a lot of fun and doesn’t often crop up in YA circles, since Allie Beckstrom is in her early twenties.

procured from: bought! That’s how excited I was to read Proxy. And I’m glad I did, because the cover is gorgeous.

Upcoming Film Adaptations of Young Adult Books

A List of My Top 10 Most Anticipated YA Book To Film Adaptations!

Ender's Game

by REBECCA, July 16, 2013

This weekend, I was at my dear friend E—’s wedding with some of my all-time favorite people with whom to discuss books, movies, and YA. That reminded me of how excited I am to see what messes/successes come from the upcoming SLEW of YA books that are being adapted for the big screen. So, here is a list of the top 10 adaptations I’m most looking forward to!

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card Ender's Game

1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Probably the most anticipated science fiction film adaptation of the year, there’s been a lot of controversy over this one. Ender’s Game is one of my favorite books of all time, but Orson Scott Card is an ultraconservative outspoken homophobe, so many sci fi fans want to boycott the movie to avoid lining Card’s pockets. This is definitely one to check out before the movie drops, November 1st.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

2. Divergent by Veronica Roth

I liked the first in the Divergent series, but the prose was weak and I thought the world-building was a bit spotty, so I wonder if the movie won’t actually be able to smooth over those things. The film is coming out March 21, 2014.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

3. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, both of whom will star in Divergent, will also star in The Fault In Our Stars. Check out Tessa’s review of John Green’s wonderful novel HERE. The film is coming in 2014.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan The Forest of Hands and Teeth

4. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

I really enjoyed this creepy zombie plague story and cannot wait to see it on the big screen. It’s a slow-moving story, but super atmospheric, so I think it has the potential to be awesome.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

5. The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner follows a group of boys who wake up in a maze with no memory of how they got there or how to get out. I just watched MTV’s Teen Wolf (which was actually much better than I anticipated), and The Maze Runner movie stars Dylan O’Brien, the best character in Teen Wolf. The movie comes out February 14, 2014.

City of Bones The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare The Mortal Instruments

6. City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1) by Cassandra Clare

This one’s coming really soon—August 22; get ready! Oh, City of Bones, you turned crazy after a while, but I’m still so excited to see you, especially in the company of Lily Collins’ perfect eyebrows. And with Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the villain, how could things go wrong . . . ?

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

7. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Omigod, you guys, this is only in development, but IT IS HAPPENING! In the meantime, though, you can check out my dream for an amusement park ride based on Uglies HERE.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

8. If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I loved Gayle Forman’s beautiful story of a girl fighting her way back from a coma after the accident that killed her family. I’m curious to see how they’ll do it as a movie, since so much of it is in the character’s head. Chloe Moretz is slated to star—let’s hope she pulls it off. She is also going to play Carrie in the upcoming remake of Carrie.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

9. The Graveyard Book and The Ocean At the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I love Neil Gaiman, but The Graveyard Book wasn’t one of my favorites of his. I think a movie of it could be wonderful, though. Everything that made it kind of a slow, diffuse read could make for a dynamite movie. Ron Howard is directing, so it might be ok, or it might be sentimental tripe. The Ocean At the End of the Lane, however, is an absolutely stunning book that I worry will make a crap movie.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

10. Maggie Stiefvater’s EVERYTHING!

I could not possibly be more excited! Both The Scorpio Races and The Raven Boys have been optioned and are in production. Gah! Shiver was in production but, according to Maggie Stiefvater’s website, she and the filmmakers had creative differences, so it’s not going forward right now, but maybe in the future. People: murderous water horses. IN A MOVIE!

Anyhoo, there are a staggering number of YAdaptations in the works! Which ones are you looking forward to? Tell me in the comments!

What’s On the Other Side of Death? White Crow

A Review of White Crow, by Marcus Sedgwick

Orion, 2010

White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick

by REBECCA, July 8, 2013

hook

The town of Winterfold is slowly falling into the sea and Rebecca doesn’t want to spend the summer there at all. Ferelith has always lived in Winterfold and though she knows all its secrets she doesn’t have anyone to share them with until Rebecca comes along. But their summer-long exploration of Winterfold’s crumbling landmarks will culminate in a game with very real consequences, and a 200-year-old experiment with death will exact its own price.

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White Crow has been on my to-read list for a while now; I mean, what part of two teenagers daring each other to do creepy shit in broken churches and crumbling houses doesn’t appeal to me? And the whole thing is set against the backdrop of the history of Winterfold where, 200 years ago, a priest was taken in by a “man of science” and participated in an experiment to see if they could communicate with people after they’ve been beheaded (based, apparently, on Dr. Beaurieux, a scientist who believed that he could communicate with a person’s head after it had been guillotined because he thought consciousness persisted for thirty seconds). Come on; so cool.

Sedgwick evokes the atmosphere of Winterfold beautifully. I loved the idea of a town that was slowly being eaten by the sea:

“Ferelith has the door [to the church] moving now . . . She’s looking through the door, but she’s not looking into the church, instead, she’s looking through it. She’s looking through it because the church has no back. She can see the nave, the aisles, there are even pews between the columns, and there’s a roof to the columns, but the whole eastern end of the church is missing. What she’s looking at is the last glow of light from the sunset, the dusky sky, some wisps of cloud, and an evening star. Where the pulpit should be, the moon hangs low in the sky, as if rising out of the sea like a bathing goddess” (51).

White Crow by Marcus SedgwickRebecca’s father, a cop, was accused of negligence that led to the death of a girl in London, so he and Rebecca are in Winterfold to escape all that. Their relationship is on the skids, so Rebecca is happy to find a friend in Ferelith, even if the other girl does creep her out sometimes. They become close quite quickly and Sedgwick’s portrayal of their fast and intense connection over loneliness and a teenage obsession with death definitely rang true to me. But, at heart, Rebecca is a pretty average kid and Ferelith . . . isn’t. And, little by little, Ferelith’s games, dares, and challenges become too much for Rebecca. And no wonder, when Winterfold’s sites have such a sinister history.

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

The atmosphere and setting were definitely the highlights of White Crow because, despite having many snippets of backstory, the characters really never came alive for me—they felt more like collections of characteristics and quirks. This lack of character depth was owing, mainly, to the narrative style—or, rather, styles.

White Crow braids together three different narrative strands, which switch every few pages. In the present, there’s a 1st person narrative that is from Ferelith’s perspective and a 3rd person narrative that’s limited to Rebecca’s perspective; 200 years in the past, there’s a 1st person narrative from the perspective of the priest who participated in the experiment. Now, https://crunchingsandmunchings.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/song-of-the-sea-the-scorpio-races/I often love a story told from multiple perspectives—Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races or John Green and David Levithan’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson are masterful examples of perspective shifting that is both necessary and beautifully executed. In the case of White Crow, though, it results in a very fractured narrative and not nearly enough time to slide into the perspectives, as they swap every couple pages (or, sometimes, every page). Further, since the 3rd person narrative is limited to Rebecca’s perspective it’s not clear to me why it’s 3rd person instead of 1st. It doesn’t seem to serve any necessary function and results in Rebecca feeling like a blank character.

The trope of the white crow and its relevance to notions of certainty and spirituality runs through the novel, but while there is a vague narrative payoff at the end (no spoilers), the questions with which the characters seem concerned—death, the afterlife, morality, ethics, and good and evil—are really not the topics with which the book seems to concern itself. The book itself seems more interested in loneliness and impermanence, elusive and ephemeral topics that are better served by atmosphere and voice than by the plot machinations that the narrative favors.

Revolver by Marcus SedgwickAll in all, this was a short book that had a small story to tell, but read like a long book that made a bit much of its story. I enjoyed many of its elements, but was made so aware of the work the author was doing to bring it off—so many different voices! so many perspectives! look, 200 year old language!—that the payoff seemed meager. It’s a book that, had it been done differently would have been a tight little gem of a creepy story. Still, it’s an interesting book and Sedgwick is an author who is interested in a lot of the things that I’m interested in reading, so I’m going to give his Revolver (2009) and Midwinterblood (2011) a shot.

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Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Skim by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki (2008). Although they’re not necessarily similar stories, Skim is the story of a girl who’s trying to figure out who she is by looking into the occult. An amazing graphic novel! My full review is HERE.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2008). A toddler is raised by ghosts in a graveyard. That’s normal, right? Well, yeah, because this is a Neil Gaiman book.

procured from: the library

Summer Reading Road Trip: Playing Tyler

Summer Reading Road Trip 2013Ahoy, summer readers! The folks at SparkPoint Studio are running a Summer Reading Road Trip. Each book on the list is set in a different city and state, so you can read your way across the country without gas-guzzling your way to a massive carbon footprint. Join in, and read your way from Massachusetts to Montana!

Today’s stop: New Haven, Connecticut for a Little Brother meets Ender’s Game adventure: Playing Tyler.

A Review of Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa

Strange Chemistry, 2013

Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa

By REBECCA, June 3, 2013

hook

Tyler’s dad is dead, his mom’s never around, his brother’s an addict, and his ADHD makes it hard for him to concentrate on anything but gaming. Ani designed a popular video game, was an internationally-ranked gamer, and started at Yale all by the time she turned sixteen, but she still feels like a kid. Someone wants Tyler and Ani for their skills, but what will they do when they realize they’re implicated in something that will have far greater fallout than a video game?

worldview

Ender's Game by Orson Scott CardTyler MacCandless just wants to fly. Maybe he can’t concentrate on anything at school, but in the flight simulation games, he’s a genius. After his dad’s death and his brother’s turn to drugs, Tyler’s mom can’t cope, so she buries herself in work. The only one Tyler can count on is Rick, who he’s known for years through a mentoring program. Rick sees Tyler’s potential and says that if he performs well while beta testing a new flight simulation training game then he’ll make sure he gets into flight school. Tyler is shocked when the new sim’s designer shows up at his house to set up the sim and it’s Slayergrrl (Ani), the creator of his favorite game, World of Fire!

At first the new sim seems boring—Tyler is just flying drones over miles and miles of road. But then, little by little, Tyler starts to think there’s more to the sim than just showing off his flying skills. Is it possible that the “sim” is actually linked to real drones in the Middle East? And why has Rick insisted that Ani can’t have any contact with Tyler? But Tyler and Ani can’t stay apart and as their relationship heats up, so do things in the sim. And soon they’ll have to confront Rick and put their lives on the line for their freedom.

Little Brother by Cory DoctorowT.L. Costa’s debut is a compelling read and, while the premise itself isn’t new, this is a comparatively realistic, circumspect take on the when-is-a-game-not-a-game phenomenon. It’s told in chapters that alternate between Tyler and Ani’s points of view, and Tyler’s voice is great. His ADHD causes him to think in short, declarative sentences and sometimes omits first person pronouns, kind of like Rorschach in Watchmen. Tyler’s a well-drawn character—his worry for his mother and brother, his difficulty expressing himself, and his love and awe of Ani make him sympathetic and likable. But he’s also naive, and his struggle between his general patriotism and the specifics of what he learns is happening in the sim provide enough contrast so that he doesn’t just seem like a stereotypical hero-caught-up-in-forces-beyond-his-control. He is also occasionally quite amusing. On his first date with Ani he realizes that he’s not as good at paying compliments as might have hoped:

“Her face looks like I stung her. Shit. My face heats up, burns. So many books. Can’t one just like fall on my head and put me out of my misery? Please?”

Ani’s voice is less compelling, less particular, but it’s really awesome to see a supersmart gamer and computer programmer whose character isn’t undercut by the author’s compulsion to frame her as either hypersexualized or terrifyingly sociopathic. Ani is just a sixteen-year-old with a talent for programming got involved in something shady, and she and Tyler balance each other well.

As for the plot, as I said, it’s not new, but Costa makes a good choice, I think, in making this a small-beans plot as opposed to a mega-conspiracy or an intergalactic fight to the death. The storyline of Tyler’s brother’s heroin addiction and Ani’s relationships (or lack thereof) with her roommate and the other Yalies turn what could be a dry, by-the-book execution of an interesting plot into a very enjoyable drama with some intrigue, some romance, and some well-done family drama. This is an understated book, but it doesn’t strike a false note. I’m looking forward to seeing what Costa writes next.

procured from: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa is available now.

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